There can be nothing finer than dining al fresco. And let’s be honest, it’s a rare luxury in these parts, particularly in the last few years when the summers have been simply an extension of the winters.
But this summer was different – heatwaves and calm winds were manna from heaven for fans of eating under the skies. At times, it was actually too hot and salads have been the order of the day.
Here’s a reminder of what the summer of 2018 allowed us to do!
So we had the weather, all we needed was the venue.
This is when beer gardens really come into their own and we discovered a fine example in Bamburgh at The Castle Inn.
Known locally as The Middle, the pub is homely and traditional, with its wood-panelling, exposed stone walls and ceiling beams.
The bar is appropriately in the middle of the pub, with seating areas all around it.
And through the back is a conservatory-style extension with functional tables of various sizes. Even further back, there’s the beer garden, with a patio and classy metal furniture, followed by a grassed area of multi-coloured picnic benches, no doubt with children in mind.
It is like a Tardis – the modest, ordinary frontage giving way to a sizeable operation, catering for a large number of covers, dependant, of course, on the weather!
For us, the early evening sunshine was still warm enough to make it criminal to sit inside and instead required a seat outside, initially just for a drink – mine, a pint of Foxy Blonde from the Born in the Borders Brewery, based at Jedburgh, Scotland, and a glass of Merlot for Mrs L.
But after glancing at the menu, we were easily persuaded to stay for something to eat.
It was an extensive affair, starting with light lunches – kippers from Robson’s of Craster (£7.95), homemade soup of the day (until 6pm) at £5.45, sandwiches, from £5.95, and chips with a choice of topping, from £4.50, to baked potatoes with side salad, from £7.45.
The traditional-favourites section of the menu made it abundantly clear that it was pub grub on offer here, rather than haute cuisine, compared with The Castle’s two sister venues, the high-class fish restaurant the Mizen Head up the road and the revamped, swanky Lord Crewe Arms down the road.
Burger, fish and chips, fishcakes, chicken curry and scampi, at around the £10 to £12 mark, were among the dishes up for grabs.
Beef steaks, supplied by Galagate Farm, Norham, joined blackened Cajun pork (10oz, £12.95), gammon steak (10oz, £12.95) and a trio of border lamb cutlets (£13.95) on the choice ‘from the grill’.
The nod to local food continued with the Bamburgh Banger, from the village’s own butcher R Carter & Sons.
A section of the menu was devoted to youngsters with fish and chips, beefburger, chicken nuggets, mildly-spiced chicken fillets, Bamburgh Banger or Whitby scampi, with a choice of veg, costing £6.45.
My attention was also drawn to the specials board, which included squid and crayfish Portuguese served with rice and a creamy tomato sauce with a hint of garlic (£12.95); fillet of beef stroganoff served with rice (£15.95); chef’s mince, tatties and dumplings (£9.95) and chicken Caesar salad (£9.95).
But there were no starters to speak of, so we hit the ‘favourites’, with a predictable butcher’s steak and kidney pie, with chips, peas and gravy for me and homemade beef lasagne, with chips and salad (£10.95) for Mrs L.
By this time, it had become quite busy, for a Thursday evening, and the queue to order food or drinks at the bar was lengthy.
I paid for each course as it was ordered, although there was a rather complicated way of opening a tab using a credit card. The wait to order may have been long but the food almost arrived back at our table before I did!
Both the lasagne and pie were tasty and certainly not factory-produced, but the chips weren’t of the deluxe hand-cut, thrice-fried variety that is all the rage these days, and I could have done with a bit more of the gravy, albeit the instant sort.
But as high-turnover food goes, it was enjoyable and good value.
DESSERTS WERE A DELIGHT
We decided to chance desserts as the sun had not quite disappeared out of the sky. The sponges (sticky toffee, sticky ginger or sticky chocolate) from Proof of the Pudding at Heckley High House, Alnwick, served with cream, ice-cream or custard, were on my radar - they are the best in the world, after all! I plumped for the former with custard.
Across the picnic bench, the order was caramel apple granny with ice-cream.
I joined the queue again! Both desserts were £5.95 and hit the right spot. Neither were works of gastronomic art – mine was swimming in custard – but they tasted very good and certainly did the job of rounding off an archetypal pub-grub meal.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Bamburgh Banger & mash......£10.45
La Burger Maison......£10.45
Fish ’n’ chips......£11.95
Whitby wholetail scampi......£11.95
Mild & wild chicken......£10.95
Ham, eggs & chips......£10.95
Somerset brie & beetroot tart......£9.95
Roasted vegetable chilli......£8.95
Potato, chick pea & spinach......£9.95
From The Grill
Grilled sirloin steak (10oz)......£17.95
Grilled ribeye (10oz)......£17.95
Gammon steak (10oz)......£12.95
Desserts (all £5.95)
Lemon tart, four-layer warm chocolate fudge cake, sticky ginger pudding
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......7½
Use of local food......9
Value for money......8½
Access for disabled (via side alley and garden)......9
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: Standard pub cuisine, plenty of choice at sensible prices.
Contact: 01668 214616